Struggling Starters: Can Chris Archer, Zack Greinke and David Price improve?
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Struggling Starters: Can Chris Archer, Zack Greinke and David Price improve?
Monday April 25th, 2016

Extra innings acquaints a man with strange bedfellows, as noted baseball fan William Shakespeare once wrote. Sunday's 13-inning, five-hour-and-25-minute marathon between the Diamondbacks and Pirates—won by Pittsburgh 12–10—had plenty of that, capped by Shelby Miller's first professional foray into the outfield. Though he's hardly the first pitcher in recent memory to be pressed into outfield duty (the Rockies' Jason Gurka played an inning there on Sept. 15), he has nonetheless joined a notable fraternity.

Via my unofficial Baseball-Reference Play Index count, there have been 42 instances of pitchers playing the outfield in the past 40 seasons (starting in 1977) including Miller and Gurka. That tally doesn't include outfielders who took a turn on the mound or players such as Brooks Kieschnick and Dave McCarty who transitioned to pitching in mid-career. The past decade has been a popular one for what has generally been a desperation tactic, as bullpens have expanded due to workload concerns and an increase in lefty specialists, with benches shortening as a result; I counted 12 such instances dating back to 2007. By comparison, there were only three from 1994 through 2004, though for the '77–93 period, it's a rare season that did not feature such an occurrence.

I can't cover all of those cameos, but what follows here is a roundup of some particularly notable instances from the aforementioned span, with a few others shoehorned in for good measure. Since Miller's adventures deserve a closer look, I'll start with him and work backwards chronologically.

(Missing from this set, alas, is the great Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera. Renowned for his skill shagging fly balls during batting practice—which led to a torn ACL in 2012—the 43-year-old future Hall of Famer lobbied Joe Girardi to make a cameo in centerfield before retiring at the end of the '13 season. Between the team's penultimate series against the Rays carrying playoff implications and New York's final series against the Astros resulting in Rivera's emotional departure from the mound, Rivera decided to forgo the outfield stint, saying, "I think I squeezed every ounce of fuel that I have in my tank. It’s empty. I have nothing left. I gave everything that I had.”)

Shelby Miller, Diamondbacks vs. Pirates (April 24, 2016)

Miller wasn't even the first Diamondbacks pitcher to get into the Chase Field slugfest in a non-pitching capacity. With 13 pitchers on the roster, manager Chip Hale was working with a four-man bench, which he began burning through in the top of the fourth inning by double-switching starter Robbie Ray out of the game; reliever Tyler Wagner took the sixth slot in the batting order, with third baseman Phil Gosselin removed, rightfielder Brandon Drury moving to third and David Peralta entering the game in rightfield. Rickie Weeks pinch-hit for Wagner in the sixth, and Jake Lamb pinch-hit for reliever Randall Delgado in the eighth, then stayed in the game at third base, sending Drury to rightfield and Peralta to center, replacing Chris Owings.

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In the bottom of the 10th, with one out and Lamb on third representing the potential winning run, Hale called upon backup catcher Chris Hermann, his last available position player, to pinch-hit for closer Brad Ziegler; alas, he grounded into a fielder's choice that put Lamb out trying to score. The Pirates plated two runs in the top of the 12th against Tyler Clippard, but the Diamondbacks refused to go quietly. After Lamb hit a leadoff single, shortstop Nick Ahmed was called out on strikes and then ejected by home plate umpire Marvin Hudson for arguing over the pitch (which was several inches inside), leaving the team shorthanded if the Diamondbacks were to come back—which they did. Zack Greinke hit for Clippard and collected an infield single, then was lifted for a pinch-runner, Miller. A Peralta double scored Lamb, and a Jean Segura single scored Miller to push the game into the 13th; Hale put Miller in left, moved Yasmany Tomas from left to right and sent Drury from right to second and Segura from second to shortstop.

Miller quickly got tested, as Sean Rodriguez hit a ball off the leftfield wall; Miller played the carom perfectly and nearly threw Rodriguez out at second, but one run scored, and Rodriguez wound up scoring himself on a pinch-hit by pitcher Jon Niese. Trailing 12–10 in the bottom of the 13th, Wellington Castillo reached base, but after Lamb lined out, Bucs reliever Arquimedes Caminero struck out both pinch-hitter Patrick Corbin (the fourth pitcher to enter the game for non-pitching purposes) and Miller to preserve the victory.

Tony Sipp and Wesley Wright, Astros (twice apiece from 2011 to '14)

During their lengthy rebuilding process, the Astros became the foremost practitioners of an advanced version of moving the pitcher to the outfield and back, with managers Brad Mills and Bo Porter each doing so twice with lefty specialists. On Aug. 23, 2011 against the Rockies, Mills used Wright to retire both Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton, sending him to rightfield while David Carpenter retired Troy Tulowitzki. On July 27, 2012 against the Pirates, Wright did it again, retiring Alex Presley, moving to rightfield while Wilton Lopez faced Andrew McCutchen (who doubled), then returning to the mound to retire three more batters before getting the hook.

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​Sipp enjoyed one particularly adventurous week in 2014. On June 9 against the Diamondbacks in Chase Field, Porter called upon him in the bottom of the seventh with the Astros trailing 4–3. Working around a two-out walk, he pitched a scoreless frame and remained in the game for the eighth. After he struck out Gerardo Parra, Porter brought in righty Jerome Williams to face Paul Goldschmidt, moving Sipp to rightfield, shifting Presley (by this point an Astro) from right to left and pulling leftfielder Robbie Grossman. Williams walked Goldschmidt, whereupon Sipp returned to the mound, Presley returned to right and Marwin Gonzalez took over in left. Sipp struck out Miguel Montero and then departed, though the Astros wound up losing.

Six days later against the Rays, again down 4–3, Porter went back to the well. Brought into a two-on, one-out jam, Sipp induced Kevin Kiermaier to ground into a fielder's choice that forced Yunel Escobar out at home. Porter then sent Sipp to leftfield to replace Grossman, bringing in Josh Zeid, who struck out Evan Longoria to end the threat. Sipp returned to the mound to start the ninth, sandwiching two outs around a single to Ben Zobrist; he didn't score, but the Astros lost again.

Roy Oswalt, Phillies vs. Astros (Aug. 24, 2010)

Less than a month after being traded by the team for whom he had starred since 2001, Oswalt found himself in even more unfamiliar territory in a situation that wasn't far removed from Miller's. With the game tied at 2–2 in the bottom of the 14th inning, Ryan Howard was ejected for arguing a called third strike and had to be restrained from charging umpire Scott Barry. Out of position players, manager Charlie Manuel put Oswalt in leftfield, moving Raul Ibanez to first base in place of Howard. It wasn't long before Oswalt was tested; Jason Castro hit the first pitch of the top of the 15th to him, and he caught it cleanly. He played a total of two innings without handling another ball; the Astros rallied for two in the top of the 16th to win.

Randy Johnson, Mariners vs. Twins (Oct. 3, 1993)

The Big Unit had beaten the Twins to win his 19th game on Oct. 1, but with the Mariners on the short end of a 7–2 score during the final day of the season, manager Lou Piniella had no way to bring him on in relief to snatch a 20th win (something he would do in 1997). Piniella did indulge Johnson by letting him play leftfield during the bottom of the eighth inning in Minnesota. He didn't field a ball but joked afterward, "I was hoping I’d get to go back to the wall and take a home run away from somebody, just like [Ken Griffey] Junior," then got realistic, adding, "I was thinking if that ball had been hit to me, I wasn’t going to be diving at it.”

This wasn't the first or last time Piniella would use a pitcher in the outfield. On July 15, 1993, he used Jeff Nelson to record four outs against the Red Sox, split by a one-batter stint in leftfield. On July 12, 2009 while managing the Cubs, he sent Sean Marshall to leftfield for one batter after issuing a walk, then brought him back to record two outs.

Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell, Mets vs. Reds (July 22, 1986)

This might be the most famous example in recent memory, for manager Davey Johnson used not one but two relievers to shuttle from the mound to the outfield and back in what may rank as the most memorable of the Mets' 108 wins that year. With the score tied 3–3 in the bottom of the 10th inning, the lefty Orosco entered and struck out Dave Parker but allowed Pete Rose to reach via a single. Pinch-runner Eric Davis stole second and third base but touched off a bench-clearing brawl with third baseman Ray Knight in the process; both were ejected along with Reds pitcher Mario Soto (who wasn't in the game) and Mets rightfielder Kevin Mitchell (who was).

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With pitcher Tom Browning pinch-running for Davis, Orosco headed to rightfield and McDowell came in to retire Wade Rowdon on a grounder. McDowell remained on the mound to start the 11th, yielding a single to Tony Perez but recording two outs. He then swapped places with Orosco, who struck out lefty Max Venable to end the inning, then worked a scoreless 12th as McDowell and leftfielder Mookie Wilson swapped places. McDowell returned to pitch a spotless 13th, with Orosco taking rightfield (where he caught a Perez fly ball) and Wilson in leftfield. Orosco then drew a walk and scored on a three-run homer by Howard Johnson in the top of the 14th, remaining in rightfield; McDowell set down the Reds 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning to seal the victory.

Orosco never played the outfield again, though he went on to set a still-standing major league record with 1,252 total games pitched. McDowell would go on to play the outfield two more times during his career, both for the Dodgers in October 1991, sandwiching four outs around a one-batter stint in leftfield against the Padres on Oct. 1, and then playing left for a full inning—the final one of the season—without incident against the Giants on Oct. 6. For frequency, even McDowell has to take a back seat to Todd Worrell, who played rightfield four times for the Cardinals from 1986 to '89, including once in the 1987 NLCS (not included in that count).

Ron Guidry, Yankees vs. Royals (Aug. 18, 1983)

The longtime Yankees ace, who played centerfield and pitched during his high school and college careers, first played the outfield at the major league level in 1979, spending the ninth inning there on Sept. 29 against the Blue Jays; manager Billy Martin sent him out there to replace Bobby Murcer, who had homered in the bottom of the eighth of what became a 9–4 win. Martin called upon Guidry again under more controversial circumstances in 1983 in the resumption of the infamous Pine Tar Game. On July 24, the Royals' George Brett hit a two-out, two-run homer off Goose Gossage in the top of the ninth to give Kansas City a 5–4 lead. The homer was disallowed when Martin protested over the excessive pine tar on his bat; Brett went bananas, and Royals manager Dick Howser protested the game.

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While the Royals ended up on the short end of the game as initially played, AL president Lee MacPhail upheld Howser's protest, with the remainder of the contest to be played on Aug. 18, the next time the Royals were in Yankee Stadium, albeit with Brett and Howser both ejected. Martin treated the resumption of the contest as a farce, moving lefty-tossing first baseman Don Mattingly to second, inserting Ken Griffey Sr. at first and putting Guidry in centerfield in place of Jerry Mumphrey. None of them got to handle the ball, as pitcher George Frazier struck out Hal McRae, and the Yankees went scoreless in the bottom of the ninth.

Oddly enough, Martin was also responsible for the only other pitcher appearing in centerfield during this span. While managing the A's on Oct. 3, 1982, the final day of the season, he let Rick Langford play centerfield for one inning and then leftfield for two innings; in the latter capacity, Langford cleanly handled one fly ball.

Fernando Valenzuela and Bob Welch, Dodgers vs. Cubs (Aug. 17, 1982)

In this game at Wrigley Field (pre-lights), the Cubs scored a run in the bottom of the first, the Dodgers countered with a run in the top of the second, and the two sides traded zeroes until darkness forced the contest to be suspended in the top of the 18th. It resumed the next day, and in the bottom of the 20th, Valenzuela, who just the year before had won both NL Cy Young and Rookie of the Year honors in leading the Dodgers to their first championship since 1965, took over rightfield, with Pedro Guerrero shifting to third base in place of Ron Cey. Valenzuela caught a fly ball from Larry Bowa, then swapped places with leftfielder Dusty Baker, who drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the 21st inning. Valenzuela, who grounded out to end the inning, was replaced by Welch; in turn, he swapped places with Baker not once but twice in the inning, as pitcher Jerry Reuss retired the side in order.

Valenzuela would go on to do something even more rare for a pitcher during another marathon on July 3, 1989: Play first base. Entering in the bottom of the 21st against the Astros—while third baseman Jeff Hamilton took the mound (!) in relief of Orel Hershiser, who had thrown seven shutout innings in relief (!!)— Valenzuela caught a pop foul in the 21st and recorded an additional putout in the 22nd on a pitcher-to-first groundout, but Houston nonetheless pushed a run across to win 2–1.

Kent Tekulve, Pirates vs Giants (Sept. 1, 1979)

A durable submariner who averaged 75 appearances a year from 1976 to '88, lead the NL in appearances four times and reached 90 appearances three times, Tekulve made a particularly memorable foray to leftfield. With two outs in the ninth inning and the tying run on base, Pirates manager Chuck Tanner brought in lefty Grant Jackson to face slugger Darrell Evans. Jackson hit a fly ball to left on the first pitch, and Tekulve caught it for the final out.

Manager Chuck Tanner, who would pilot the Pirates to a 1979 World Series win (with Tekulve notching three saves) used the tactic at least two other times. On July 1, 1977, Terry Forster took rightfield as part of a double-switch in a 14-inning loss to the Phillies. In the final game of the 1984 season, Don Robinson—an exceptional hitter for a pitcher, with 13 homers to his name—started in rightfield and played five innings, also against the Phils.

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